By ROWAN HOOPER

* Japanese name: Kurotsura-herasagi
* Scientific name: Platalea minor
* Description: A large, white, striking bird with a black face and bill, and black legs. The bill is the most distinctive feature, being wider at the tip than in the middle, with a flattened end like a paddle or a spoon. The long legs are also flattened, to minimize water resistance when the bird walks through the water. The feet are half-webbed, to allow it to walk over soft mud without sinking. At around age 3 or 4 years, black-faced spoonbills start to sexually mature, and the previously flesh-colored bill becomes black; the iris becomes red and flight feathers that were black as a juvenile become pure white. Some have yellow plumage at the neck.
* Where to find them: This bird is restricted to coastal East Asia, but it migrates around the region, and many come to Japan for the winter. Here, they may be seen in estuaries and lakes. They were once common, but numbers plummeted due to their sensitivity both to changes in the environment and to pollution. The Korean War (1950-53) wiped out most nest sites for the birds in South Korea, and this had a knock-on effect on the numbers that came to Japan for the winter.
* Food: Spoonbills forage by sweeping their bills from side to side in mud or water. There is no cutting edge on the bill, but it has hundreds of tiny sensory pits that detect movement and prey and is highly adapted for feeding by sense of touch. The preferred food items are small fish, followed by mollusks and marine worms. Low tide is their best time to feed, but human disturbance often prevents this.
* Special features: The famous bill can open surprisingly wide. This allows the bird to swallow large prey items, which are stored in a gizzard. Unlike in other birds, where food is ground up with stones, in the spoonbill the muscles of the gizzard pouch are not well-developed and the pouch functions rather as a digestive sack. Once classified as “critically endangered,” numbers of black-faced spoonbills recovered in the 1990s and now they are considered merely “endangered” — although they are still one of the rarest birds on the planet. Their mating system seems to be one of monogamy.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET

SOURCE: JAPAN TIMES

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